Connecting us across beliefs and cultures, dignity unites us around our shared humanity. When an organization honors the dignity of every employee, recognizing and valuing the role that each plays, employee engagement and retention strengthens and the workplace thrives.
Work is a source of personal meaning
Many of us spend a lot of time at work—90,000 hours or more—and we identify our work as a great source of meaning in our lives. How we see ourselves as workers—and how we are treated at work—has an outsized impact on our sense of personal dignity.
At the same time, work is a leading cause of stress, and many workers don’t feel their organizations treat them as the “greatest resource” described in values statements.
“This is a serious issue, because dignity is fundamental to well-being and to human and organizational thriving.”
Research shows that conditions of work have a dramatic impact over workers’ health and well-being—and those who feel valued and respected are more likely to perform at their best.
Many people don’t feel valued at work
A full 60% report that their efforts are not recognized. While “dignity” often appears in an organization’s statement of values or its Code of Conduct, people end up feeling disconnected from a reality they don’t recognize, and few managers receive any guidance on how to think about—let alone create and sustain—the positive dynamics of workplace dignity. It’s not surprising, then, that unhealthy, disempowering workplace cultures persist. (In a recent study of the tech industry, nearly 40% of employees who left their companies indicated that unfairness or mistreatment played a major role in that decision.) And even pre-pandemic, one in five workers reported feeling lonely and isolated at work.
“For one-fourth of people working in corporate America, a typical day at work means being a "lonely only.”
Employees from underrepresented groups are more likely to have work experiences that undermine their sense of worth. As often the only person of their race, ethnicity, and/or sexual orientation represented on their team, a minority employee may feel alienated or vulnerable, which in turn places them at risk for differential treatment. In a new study, Glassdoor found that workplace culture is a key factor that drives employee turnover. Worse, stressful work environments can actually cause workers physical and psychological harm.
While over 80% of employers believe that employees are treated with dignity and respect at their organization regardless of their job, role or level, only 65% of employees feel the same. Willis Towers Watson
“61% of employees in the US have witnessed or experienced discrimination at work” Slate
“One in five Americans have left a job in the past five years due to bad company culture.” SHRM
Unique Opportunity: Advancing dignity at work delivers positive outcomes
COVID-19 and the renewed racial justice reckoning throughout 2020 challenged many organizations to think hard about what they stand for and the actions they take. Many issued bold worker-centric and anti-racist statements. Some reconsidered their external commitments, their place in the communities in which they operate, and how they engage their employees.
Those organizations that invested in their workers reaped financial rewards as 2020 saw companies with superior workforce treatment outperform the market.
JUST Capital—having conducted surveys in partnership with The Harris Poll—reports that the American public overwhelmingly believes that the pandemic has prompted the need for a “reset,” and a move to stakeholder-driven capitalism. As the debate between stakeholder capitalism and shareholder primacy carries on, JUST Capital’s analysis provides clear evidence that “your business is only as good as your workforce.”
The Edelman Trust Barometer reports that people trust “my employer” to do what’s right, creating a unique opportunity for organizations to create a more dignity-centered workplace. In fact, according to a 2020 study by Willis Towers Watson, nine in 10 employers were ready to build a culture of dignity, up from 59% in the previous three years. To do so, it will be crucial for employers to demonstrate clarity and consistency, and seek out employee voices—especially in times of crisis.
“Responsible leaders must take specific actions to close the perception gap between what their employees report they are experiencing and what employers think their workplace cultures are delivering.”
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